Posted on July 21, 2007
An 16-bit road less traveled: Atari ST (and Amiga) Games – 16-bit degrees of separation #1.
I started with 8-bit degrees of separation last week where I investigated some rare/forgotten Atari 800 games. This week I’ll take my investigation up to the 16-bit level. Here is how the game is played. First I choose a random Atari ST game, then I search out related games, developers and companies to find other games of note. This becomes especially fun when we find gems that we never new of or ones that got little notice when in their prime. Today we start with a little known, but very fun shoot-em-up called Foundations Waste. We’ll follow that to related games including: Hyperdrome, Hell Raisers (Liberators), and Teen Age Mutant Ninja Hero Turtles. Because the Atari ST was the computer I had, we’ll focus on those versions, although all 4 of these games were released for the Amiga as well.
Foundation’s Waste was released by Exocet Software in 1988. Our friend, Brandon Crist had this one. Atari ST games were not easy to come by in the USA. We had to drive an hour to an import shop in Orange, California called Computer Games + to find good ST games. We had to purchase most new games almost sight-unseen in those early days. This was because the import magazines were always months behind the street dates, and of course there was no Internet. Also, we weren’t into the pirate scene much, so we paid hard cash for many many ST games. We had to rely on a good bit of quality color packaging with relatively high ST Action scores printed on the game packaging before we would lay out the $25-35 necessary to bring one of these babies home. In one of our very first forays to CG+, Brandon bought this game, and I remember being very pleased by it.
It looks like this game was imported and released here by a company called Scorpion. Also released as an Amiga Port, the ST version was programmed by Erroll Ellison and Martyn Bysh. The absolutely brilliant “chip tune” in the game was created by W Beben. The graphics in both versions were created by Alan Tompkins.
(Above: Foundation’s Waste being played with the Atari ST Steem Emulator )
When we first played this game, we were absolutely amazed by the graphics (especially the explosions) and the music. I’m pretty sure we forgave the loose controls and high difficulty because of the euphoria of playing 16-bit games at home. It is still a very well made scrolling shooter with some nice bolt-on weapons and varied level graphics, but it definitely has the Atari ST / Amiga 80’s loose/light weight quality to it. It’s hard to describe as anything other than the physics are too loose and everything sort of pops like a balloon when hit. It could be because most developers opted for music only over music and sound FX. This was probably due to the lousy 3-voice chip the Tramiels slapped into the original ST rather than laziness on the developers part. The ported Amiga versions of games with the exact same sounds and music as the ST versions can be attributed to that laziness though. I have never played the Amiga version of this game so I can’t tell if it plays as loose with the same lack of sound, but I wouldn’t be surprised. This was the ST’s time to shine in the UK and the Amiga wouldn’t overtake it for at least another year or so. For that reason. most games were made on the ST first, and then machine code was ported straight to the Amiga (with some modifications for I/O, operting system, etc) without upgrading them.
I wish there was a trained version out there (there very well may be) because I find it way to difficult to play as an emulated game. I do remember it being easier on the real ST (at least the controls). It is well worth a try just to hear the very nice tune that was created specifically for the game.
I remember reading some reviews of this game. It was dismissed as a scrolling shooter clone. It was indeed, but at the time, on the ST, it was one of the few available for our arcade loving hearts.
Chris Edgar’s Automation Disk Catalog (Foundation’s Waste is on #027)
Rating (1-10): 6. Nice FX and music, but loose physics and controls make it a chore to complete.
We’re staying with Exocet software for the time being to check out another scrolling shooter called Hyperdrome. This is yet another game that did get a US release by Scorpion, although I never remember seeing or playing it back in the 80’s. I did read and buy START regularly, and I found a review (below), so maybe I did read about it once. I actively searched out good bolt-on weapon, scrolling shooters back then, but like I said, information on all games was very very scarce. This title was released in 1989 for both the ST and the AMIGA. I haven’t been able to find out which was created first, but 1989 would mark the very beginnings of the Amiga platform 16-bit dominance, so I wouldn’t be surprised if it was first made on either platform. It’s difficult to find detailed developer information on ST titles as there are not as many good sites on the computer as there are on the AMIGA. It seems that a company called Microwish did the actual game development on the Amiga. Little Green Desktop has them listed as the developer for the ST version of Zynaps (they also did the AMIGA version), I don’t think it is a stretch to assume they did both 16-bit computer versions.
The game title screen says they game was programmed by MJ Bysh and MA Hamilton. It also gives Graphic credit to GP Felix. I have no idea if those are real names or not. Also, surprisingly, no music credit is given. MJ Bysh quite probably is the Martyn Bush above who is listed as a programmer on Foundation’s Waste. LemonAmiga.com has the Amiga programmers listed as being the same, and the music listed as W Beben (the same as Foundation’s Waste).
(Above: Hyperdrome being played with the Atari ST Steem Emulator )
Hyperdrome is a horizontal scrolling shooter where the object is to add weaponry to your ship as you blast through the detailed levels. Like most 16-bit shooters, this game is difficult and unforgiving. Unlike Foundations waste, I find the weight of the craft to be a little bit more pleasing, and the physics seem a tad more realistic (how realistic can a space shooter really be?). Everything seems more solid, as if a little more went into making it feel more like and arcade game (obviously R-Type is what they are going for). The weight, gravity and mass all seem a little more in proportion than in Foundation;s waste. The music and visual effects are good. The music is only in the title screen on this one, while the sound FX are on during play with no music. This seems to help add that weight factor to game, as you can hear things being destroyed, and the enemies don’t seem to just pop like silent balloons when hit.
In the game, you fly your ship, dodge everything, shoot everything and pick up glowing power ups, left by destroyed enemy. The power ups are spent by pressing the spacebar when the right hand-side indicator is on the weapon you desire. Like many 80’s games, it suffers from the unforgiving fact that one hit to your fighter craft will destroy it. The game is played in such close quarters, it would have been nice for another idea on ship lives to be used (such has an energy bar, etc).
Chris Edgar’s Automation Disk Catalog (Hyperdrome s on #034)
Rating (1-10): 6. Nice FX, A little tighter than Foundation’s Waste, but the game is not as well thought out, and even more difficult.
For the next game, I decided to further investigate the development team of Martyn J Bysh (programming), Gary Felix (graphics), and Wally Beben (music). I used the Atari Legend Site to find another game by the three, and then Chris Edgar’s Automation disk catalog to find an ST disk version of the game to try. All three are also listed at LemonAmiga.com as having done the AMIGA version. Hell Raisers was also released by Exocet in 1988, and I am starting to get the distinct impression that Exocet might have consisted of mainly these three guys. I am probably over simplifying, but at least the 16-bit team was pretty much a small operation. sharing resources across multiple games on the 68000 platforms.
This is another game with an excellent chip-tune (during the start menu) by Wally Beben. It would seem that he was one of the greats of the era and I will have to do more research into what else he might have done with his obvious talents. The whole team was starting to fire on all cylinders in this game. It is a platform side scroller with HUGE sprites. In game, you get FX and no music. The sound FX are decent, and the graphics are very well done. The game still suffers a little form the one-hit and your dead style of the 80’s, but the slower pace exploration aspect of this title make it a little more palatable than the fast action shooters above.
(Above: Hell Raisers (Liberators?) being played with the Atari ST Steem Emulator )
It is interesting to note that 1/2 of the game screen is taken up by the title Liberators. I’m not sure if legal reasons made them change the name or not, but the title screen says Hell Raisers that obviously differs from the game screen. This is an Automation pirate version, so it could be a pre-release of some type. If you know the real story, send me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
I the game, you play the role of Liberator (hence the game’s second title). You must clear the sectors of Hell Raisers (game’s first title) Battle Bots and other assorted bad dudes. The first portion is a platform side scroller. Once you clear this part, you will reach your ship and take off into airspace. Here, you fly low over the planet’s surface and pretty much do what you do in all of the game by these three – blow stuff up! I have not been able to get to that screen yet, but if you do, or have an cheats or a version with a training mode, please send me an email to: email@example.com. I have tried typing “rigged” + 2 spaces at the high score screen (LemonAimga.com cheat), but it doesn’t seem to work on the ST version.
This is the best of the lot so far. This development team seems to be firing on all cylinders and I can’t wait to see what they come up with next in my investigation.
Chris Edgar’s Automation Disk Catalog (Hell Raisers is on #191)
Rating (1-10): 7. Good game. Still very difficult, but the animation, sound FX, music, and game programming are well done.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Hero Turtles
For the final game I decided to leave Exocet but stay with Martyn Bysh as a programmer and search out one of his later games. Teenage Mutant Ninja Hero Turtles was released by Image Works in 1990. It was developed by Probe, who did all manner of great arcade ports for the ST including 1943 and Side Arms. The development team consisted of Martyn Bysh on code duties, Martin Walker on music, and Hugh Riley pounding out the visuals. The Amiga version was done by the same development team only the music was composed by Jeroen Tel. – or so all of the internet sites say.
This is supposedly an arcade port of a game I never played. I don’t seem to have a MAME rom for it, so we’ll be discussing only the merits / faults of the ST version as opposed to any other versions or comparisons.
After firing up the Automation version, I notice some discrepancies with my online sources. One, the ST developer is Daisysoft (Probe is given a producing credit) , and the credited dev team is completely different: Programming by Devin Sorrell, Graphics by Mark Knowles (and Debbie Sorrell), with music by Sound Images. Maybe Martin Walker was Sound Images. I am sure the original dev team worked on the Amiga version and the ST listed dev team did the ST port.
This was supposedly a conversion of a coin-op, but after reading some comments about it on Little Green Desktop, it seems that is was not. In any case, it looks like ST Action magazine was not too pleased with the game and give it a score of 38%! I hope it’s better than that.
(Above: TMNHT being played with the Atari ST Steem Emulator )
Contrary to ST Action, what you get is a very decent, fun platform game. It’s very colorful and well done. It seems to push the limits of the ST a bit because the machine seems to have trouble keeping up with all of the moving objects, so frame rate appears to suffer as a result. That doesn’t mean it was well coded, because I have seen the ST do some amazing things and surely a game such as this should not push its limits. Anyhow, it includes both music and sound FX at the same time, which, while not too rare in Euro ST games, is an achievement given the hardware limitations. Still, it suffers from having very loose to controls, and the characters float too much. As with most mid-level quality ST games, the physics need work. This is yet another example of a game where the weight of objects, and gravity forced on them to not match the relative mass of the objects. Also, the single button ST controls leave a lot to be desired, but the developer did the absolute best they could with what they had to work with.
All that being said, I would play this game again. Your character doesn’t die at first hit, and the game seems to have been thought out very well. The goal is to rescue a news reporter who has been kidnapped and taken to the sewers. There are various objects, weapons, and power ups to collect that will aide you in your mission. Pressing the Space Bar will allow you to select between them.
This is a large, fun game. The instructions are at lemonamiga.com, so if you desire a go at it, you should file up the emulator an take a look.
Chris Edgar’s Automation Disk Catalog (TMNHT is on #392)
Rating (1-10): 7. Good game. Nice FX, colors, sound, and animation. Physics a a little loose, but fun to play.
That’s it for this week. We started and ended with a couple pretty decent titles. None of them will win any awards, but it was fun to search out these games. Whether you are an ST or Amiga fan, these 4 games will give you some arcade fun for a few minutes ar least. Next time we will investigate more 16-bit games, I hope you join us.